The Laba Festival falls on January 24, 2018. On that day, people will have Laba porridge made from different kinds of rice, beans, dried nuts, bean curd… There is no holiday for this traditional festival.
Falling on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, Laba Festival was originally an occasion for people to give sacrifices to their ancestors, and to pray to heaven and earth for a good harvest and good luck for the family. Many years later, it has become a Laba Congee eating event – a porridge that contains different types of rice, beans, dried nuts, bean curd, and meat.
The 12th lunar month is called ’La’ in Chinese and eight is pronounced ’ba’, which is how the name ’Laba’ was derived. It is not only regarded as a day of sacrifice, but also the day on which Sakyamuni (founder of Buddhism) realized truth and became a Buddha.
Legend of Laba Festival
It is said that Laba Congee originated from India. As the son of a king in the north of ancient India, Sakyamuni could not bear the local people’s suffering from illness and the theocracy ruled by Brahman (one of the four Indian classes). As a result, he abandoned his lofty position and went out to seek a way to enlighten himself according to religious doctrine. Then the first Buddha and founder of the religion, attained enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth month. Sutras were chanted in the temples and rice porridge with beans, nuts and dried fruit was prepared for the Buddha. The eight-treasure porridge was first introduced to China in the Song Dynasty about 1000 years ago. Buddhism was well accepted in the areas inhabited by the Han Chinese, With the passing of time the custom extended, especially in rural areas where peasants would pray for a plentiful harvest in this way.
There is, however, another touching story: When Sakyamuni was on his way into the high mountains in his quest for understanding and enlightenment, he grew tired and hungry. Exhausted from days of walking, he passed into unconsciousness by a river in India. A shepherdess found him there and fed him her lunch — porridge made with beans and rice. Sakyamuni was thus able to continue his journey. After six years of strict discipline, he finally realized his dream of full enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month.
Ever since, monks have prepared rice porridge on the eve and held a ceremony the following day, during which they chant sutras and offer porridge to Buddha. Thus, the tradition of eating Laba porridge was based in religion, though with the passing of time the food itself became a popular winter dish especially in cold northern China.
Customs of Laba Festival
Traditionally, the consumption of Laba Congee (Chinese腊八粥) was an important element of the festival. Actually eight ingredients are used, cooked with sugar to make the porridge tasty. In Northeast China, Northwest China and Jiangnan, this custom has been preserved, but it has become rarer in South China.
Northerners prefer to use glutinous rice, red beans, dates, lotus seeds, dried long’an pulp, walnuts, pine nuts and other dried fruits in their porridge; southerners like a salty porridge prepared with rice, soybeans, peanuts, broad beans, taro, water chestnuts, walnuts, vegetables and diced meat. In the north, it is a dessert with sugar added; in the south, salt is put in. Some people like to add cinnamon and other condiments to add flavor.
Laba Porridge is now regarded as a very nutritious food in winter that has the function of strengthening the spleen, stimulating the appetite, and soothing the nerves. It is welcomed by all people of different ages.